Finally released in the U.S., Abel Ferrara’s 2014 antibiopic conveys Pasolini’s state(s) of mind during his last day of life in early November 1975 through a fluid mosaic of moments lived and worlds imagined—those of Salò, the filmmaker’s unfinished Petrolio, and his screenplay Porno-Teo-Kolossal. Ferrara’s elegy to his master (played by Willem Dafoe) is less interested in fostering conspiracy theories about Pasolini’s death than in mourning the tragic loss of a political artist in full creative bloom.
Five minutes in, a montage of nocturnal driving—a concise, dreamy Roman (city) symphony—is paired with the reading of a letter from Pier Paolo Pasolini to the writer Alberto Moravia. The filmmaker refers to the singularity of Petrolio, his latest novel: “Its language is that of essays, of journal articles, of private letters, even of poetry.” The same description could apply to the kaleidoscopic nature of Ferrara’s Pasolini, constructed as an enlightening hall of mirrors that examines the intricate connections between Pasolini’s oeuvre, personality, and worldview, like a pocket-sized version of Todd Haynes’s take on Bob Dylan in I’m Not There.
One can almost hear Ferrara cheering when Pasolini— his inner-combustive emotions played out with blazing restraint by Dafoe—transforms his final interview into a manifesto against the destructive mechanisms of consumer society. What a coup for Ferrara, a filmmaker whose most persistent goal has been, as French critic Nicole Brenez put it in her essential monograph of the director, “to come to grips with contemporary evil.” —Manu Yáñez Murillo
Manu Yáñez Murillo is a film critic and journalist, and has written for Fotogramas, Rockdelux, Ara, and Otros Cines Europa. He is the editor of the anthology La mirada americana: 50 años de Film Comment.